Friday, June 29, 2012

Silverdocs - The Waiting Room

In honor of today's healthcare decision, I'll finish up my Silverdocs review with The Waiting Room, which was probably my favorite film of the festival (though I will admit it was really hard to pick a favorite this year).

I will admit I was a little reluctant to see this film - I thought it would just make me angry because of the pathetic state of our healthcare system in this country. But I went to see it with my coworker and I'm so glad I did.

The film follows several characters - both patients and medical staff - as they go through a public emergency room in Oakland, CA. The film makes it feel as if you are experiencing one day but in reality they filmed over a few months so the patients and doctors that were chosen may not have been there on the same day. But they did a really amazing job of choosing the characters - particularly the sassy nurse(?) who checks people in and takes their vitals. She is possibly one of the best caregivers I've ever seen: making people laugh, making them feel less anxious and even occasionally calling them on their bad behavior in such a way that makes them actually be nicer people. And they follow a few youngish doctors who are really doing their best to help people: from the dramatic traumas that come in via ambulance to the less exciting but pervasive problem of treating those who end up using the emergency room as their primary care because they don't have insurance and end up waiting until they run out of medicine. We see one doctor calling in personal favors to get a middle-aged guy who had a stroke an appointment at a private neurologist since the public hospital didn't have any appointments for several months (he still couldn't get him in sooner than one month in advance and the man could barely walk). "He's got his whole life ahead of him," the doctor pleads.

Throughout the film you also really get a feel for the diversity of the patients and their circumstances that have led them to be in the waiting room of a public hospital (lost jobs in many cases, substance abuse in a few, ambulatory care, and just plain poverty in other circumstances), as well as their feeling of helplessness as they wait and wait and then wait some more.  A father struggles to hold back tears as his little girl has a fever of 104, a couple has come in because the guy has a testicular tumor, a man suffers through severe back pain from back spurs, there were a couple of shooting victims in the film (one guy has come because he has a bullet in him from several days before).

And you get a sense for how the hospital works in general: how they prioritize people, how the waiting room gets so backed up (particularly when traumas come in by ambulance), why it often takes so long to get beds open for people (some of the pateints, particularly if there's substance abuse involved, have nowhere else to go and a public hospital can't release them without a discharge plan). Overall I thought the film did a great job of showing all sides of the experience, the problems that the hospital faces, etc. And the film was just really entertaining and heartwarming. It was everything a documentary should be.

Granted, I will say, just as my own side note: I unfortunately had to go through my own emergency room hospital situation with my boyfriend this week (hence the delay in reviews, sorry) and we were at what is generally considered a really good private hospital, yet I didn't feel like the situation was any better. It still took forever for me to figure out where to go in both the emergency room and then after his surgery, it took forever for him to get a bed once he was out of trauma (and he was literally in the hallway of the Emergency room with as many other people as they could fit along the hallway wall) and generally speaking everything took forever all the time. It also felt like, as we got closer to his release, the hospital's care got worse and worse - maybe because they knew they weren't going to be able to squeeze much more money out of him (just a guess). And there were plenty of people there without health insurance and with substance abuse problems. So I don't think being a public or private hospital necessarily makes much of a difference in service.

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